After graduating, Forrest enlists in the United States Army, where he befriends Benjamin Buford "Bubba" Blue (Mykelti Williamson), and they agree to go into the shrimping business together once they end their service for the Army. They are sent to Vietnam, and while on patrol, their platoon is ambushed. Forrest saves four of the men in his platoon, including platoon leader First Lieutenant Dan Taylor (Gary Sinise), but Bubba is killed in an attack. Forrest himself is shot in the buttocks and receives the Medal of Honor from President Lyndon B. Johnson. While recovering from his injuries Forrest meets Lieutenant Dan again, who has had both of his legs amputated above the knees due to his injuries. He is furious at Forrest for leaving him a "cripple" and cheating him out of his destiny to die in battle like his ancestors who had fought and died in every American war. In Washington, D.C., Forrest is swept up in an anti-war rally at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool (led by Abbie Hoffman) and is reunited with Jenny (Robin Wright), who is now part of the hippie counterculture movement. They spend the night walking around the capital, but she leaves with her abusive boyfriend the following day at a Black Panther party.
Forrest discovers an aptitude for ping pong and begins playing for the U.S. Army team, eventually competing against Chinese teams on a goodwill tour. He goes to the White House again and meets President Richard Nixon who provides him a room at the Watergate hotel, where Forrest inadvertently helps expose the Watergate scandal. For his numerous accomplishments, Forrest is invited onto The Dick Cavett Show alongside John Lennon, and helps inspire Lennon's song "Imagine" which was influenced by China's strict atheist society. He again encounters Lieutenant Dan, who is now an embittered drunk living on military medical retirement near Times Square, New York City. Dan is scornful of Forrest's plans to enter the shrimping business and mockingly promises to be Forrest's first mate if he ever succeeds. Meanwhile, Jenny is living life on the edge of self-destruction, having been with countless men and become addicted to cocaine; on one occasion she contemplates suicide.
Following the Paris Peace Accords, Forrest is discharged from the military and uses money from a ping pong endorsement to buy a shrimping boat, fulfilling his wartime promise to Bubba, and names it "Jenny". Lieutenant Dan keeps his own promise and